UGA’s Office of Sustainability opened its doors Feb. 1. The office is staffed by Kevin Kirsche, director; Andrew Lentini, sustainability coordinator; Jennifer Perissi, administrative specialist; and two student interns. Columns sat down with Kirsche and Lentini to talk about the office’s creation, accomplishments and future plans.
Columns: Why was the office created?
Kirsche: For years, students, faculty and staff have expressed interest in moving towards a more sustainable university. The 2009 Working Group Report on Sustainability noted that interest and the need for better coordination. Once the students approved a green fee, the office had a funding source and was created.
Columns: What does the office do?
Lentini: We work on creating a culture of sustainability through partnerships and relationships across campus. We try to put the right people, resources and projects together.
For example, with UGArden (on South Milledge), local Master Gardeners wanted a demonstration project and students wanted a campus vegetable garden. We were able to connect them in a way that they benefitted from each other. We also connected them with faculty from the local food systems program, the grounds department and the dining commons to supply food waste for compost.
Columns: What have you accomplished in the six months since the office opened?
Kirsche: We essentially started from scratch, setting up a physical office and creating a strategic plan. We’ve spent time developing relationships and finding out what people are already doing in the area of sustainability. There are so many people doing so many cool things across campus-and we still don’t even pretend to know all that’s going on. We’re going to continue working to build partnerships across campus in order to enhance operations, education and outreach.
Columns: Were there any existing projects that were revamped to be even more sustainable?
Lentini: Surplus. For years, state regulations said that if property bought with state funds couldn’t be reused or sold to a bidder then it actually had to be destroyed by a blunt object. By working with the Department of Administrative Services for the state, we were able to get the language changed so that we could give extra furniture and other unwanted, unsalable items that were destined for the landfill to local nonprofits. That keeps all of those things out of the landfill and we don’t have to pay to throw it away. We used to fill four to five 40-yard dumpsters every month with surplus items; since this change there’s only been one in the last four months.
Kirsche: This summer we also launched a pilot food waste composting program at East Village Commons in partnership with food services, Physical Plant’s grounds and services departments and Engineering Outreach Services. Instead of being landfilled, food waste is being converted into nutrient-rich compost used in campus landscapes.
Columns: What are you working on for the fall?
Kirsche: We’re working to launch our new website later this month. We’re partnering with University Housing to enhance recycling and resource conservation during move-in and participating in the Green Cup Challenge throughout the year. We’re going to promote sustainable tailgating for football season. A small grant project will help implement a pilot solar power project on campus. We’re teaming with the Academy of the Environment to offer a sustainability lunch series on the first Friday of each month starting in September. To promote fewer cars and more bikes on campus, we’re planning a bike safety class with BikeAthens, as well as another round of campus sustainability walking tours with the Go Green Alliance.
Columns: What can faculty and staff do to promote sustainability?
Lentini: Recycle your paper. CD and DVD recycling is now available; put them in campus mail to Physical Plant support services or hold on to them until you have a boxful and then e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for pickup. You can also e-mail us if you need additional recycling bins or pickups.
Kirsche: Start small. Bring your own reusable coffee cup, water bottle and cloth bags. Only turn on lights when you need them, and turn them off when you’re through. Turn off your monitor each time you leave the office and shut down your computer each night. Look for ways to drive less and walk, bike, bus or carpool more.